Though having more than a passing resemblance to an automotive Frankenstein’s monster, observers report having seen a cobbled-up Mercedes-Benz S Class on the streets in Stuttgart. Speculation centers on this being a new Maybach.
Recent rumors, fed by the buy-out by Daimler of a large number of Maybach dealers, have suggested that the Maybach brand was due to be terminated. In its best year, sales of the Maybach achieved only about 20% of the original projections, and the current model remains based on the last generation S Class, long after the new S Class has been introduced. Moreover, BMW has done much better with the Rolls-Royce Phantom than Daimler with the Maybach, even though Daimler was first to market.
The apparent Maybach test mule, however, is leading to a new round of speculation, and it centers on a Bentley-level vehicle. Rolls-Royce has announced a new vehicle in that price range and Volkswagen’s Bentley unit has had, for the market, enormous sales of the Continental GT and Continental Flying Spur.
But, though Bentley racks up the numbers with the Continentals, it also has the higher priced Arnage line in the showrooms. Similarly, Rolls-Royce will have the Phantom and other models based on it in the showrooms alongside the lower-priced Continental competitor. Should Daimler move the Maybach down to the Continental market, it will be abandoning the market in which it originally competed to Rolls-Royce, i.e., BMW. It’s hard to believe that will sit well in the Daimler boardroom.
But, selling all of 32 Maybachs in Germany in 2006 can’t have sat well with the directors, either.
Should the rumors of a new Maybach prove true, it will be yet another chapter in the recent history of Daimler’s questionable management decisions. Though it’s been the Teflon management team, escaping even the slightest consequence for mistake after mistake, Daimler’s production of a new Maybach will be a classic example of a mistake which is perpetuated because those who made it cannot admit that their decision was, in fact, a stupid one. Better to keep making it than admit to it.
Historically, the Mercedes-Benz brand produced cars at the very highest of price ranges, vehicles that were equaled by few others, exceeded by none, such as the 540K. The Maybach brand was a relatively ineffective and short-lived competitor to Mercedes in the highest price ranges, but it was not a product either more expensive or more prestigious than the top of the Mercedes line.
In the 1960’s, Mercedes introduced the 600 series. At the time, only Rolls-Royce competed in the same market segment, but the 600 was a completely modern take on the concept of a super luxury car/limousine. That vehicle deposed the Rolls as the pinnacle of luxury and prestige, simultaneously establishing Mercedes-Benz as the world’s most technologically advanced car maker. Long after the 600 was no longer in production, it was the single most prestigious luxury conveyance on the road.
Yet, throughout the period that Mercedes produced these vehicles, the company also produced Mercedes-Benz models aimed at much lower price ranges, even for use as taxicabs.
Instead of following in its own company traditions and introducing a successor to the 600, a vehicle that would have added to the prestige and appeal of the entire Mercedes line, the company instead decided to resurrect a name virtually unknown outside the circles of dedicated classic car aficionados and most commonly associated with the name Zeppelin. The only Maybach model that approached success was the Maybach D8 Zeppelin, which derived the airship company’s name for the car because Maybach manufactured the engines for the Zeppelin airships of the 1930’s. Of course, that era ended abruptly in Lakehurst, New Jersey, when the Hindenburg exploded.
As heritages go, not one of the best. Certainly nothing to compare to that of Mercedes-Benz.
But, if the rumors are true, Daimler is set to reemphasize in the minds of the customers that Mercedes-Benz is no longer a premium brand. Instead of thinking independently, the company will again let BMW write the marketing plan.
BMW, of course, had no history comparable to that of Mercedes-Benz when it acquired the rights to the Rolls-Royce name. In acquiring that name, it acquires the rights to a brand synonymous with luxury and quality, literally a household word. There was rational reason for BMW to chose a different brand name for their entry into the super luxury market. No such reason existed for Mercedes-Benz to do the same.
At that, BMW blew it, and misjudged the market. In the original acquisition of Rolls-Royce, BMW had been pitted against Volkswagen and it initially appeared that VW had won, as it acquired the company. But, by a corporate quirk, the Rolls-Royce name was actually owned by Vickers, a British aircraft company which had retained the rights to the name when it sold off the automotive division because Rolls-Royce was (and still is) a manufacturer of aircraft engines. (Rolls-Royce jet engines power the new Airbus 880). BMW bought the name, even though they didn’t get the company – which meant that VW had acquired the company that made Rolls and Bentley cars, but only acquired the rights to the name Bentley.
Eventually, VW surrendered and sold the Rolls-Royce portion of the company to BMW and retained Bentley, which they decided to make successful. In the end, though, Bentley got the last laugh. Though Rolls-Royce’s Phantom outsold the Maybach, it also failed to live up to the original expectations of it’s parent company. VW, on the other hand, established its own market with the Continental line, a market which it has had entirely to itself, much to the envy of BMW. Indeed, Bentley has been the shining star at VW, a company which has in other respects so eclipsed itself that it has now become, in effect, a subsidiary of Porsche.
That last item, of course, should be giving some pause to the folks at Daimler, as they contemplate the perpetuation of the Maybach name. Nothing they’ve done with the brand since its reintroduction has added to the prestige of the nameplate, and Porsche is not likely to easily tolerate competition in the market in which Bentley is most successful. Though VW has, as a company, done so poorly that it has been taken over by Porsche, one of the reasons that has occurred is the success of Porsche itself. It wished to expand its reach and, in effect, took over VW as the means of doing so. Porsche clearly sees a future for VW, and that certainly includes Bentley.
Maybach will not succeed, even if it once had the chance to do so. Were Daimler truly serious about competing in the Bentley market, they would do it with a Mercedes-Benz.